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Gearing up by looking back

Today, I listened to some TED talks on leadership, and I’ve written inquiries to friends on leadership must-reads.  Like all groups and individuals, our organization stands on the threshold of a new year. What will it mean for us as still a fledgling nonprofit, wanting some distinct outcomes from our mission which is to train adults with autism for technology jobs? Where will we be in one year? What do I need to muster as a leader to get us there?

The end of the year means a quiet classroom at EnCircle Technologies where I’m writing now. Our students are probably relaxing at home, on their computers or consoles, or at their part-time jobs: stocking shelves, stacking dishes, scanning records, cleaning floors.

All of the bustle of volunteers, visitors, teachers have abetted for a bit, and the new year looms ahead.

I look back at 2015 and see the typically partly cloudy day. We had clouds; we lost people who were invested from the beginning; we had some students leave our classes due to issues beyond our control; we had some possible work contracts for our students that fell through; our hopes for college support classes are still on trial. There has been much, much to learn about. Personally, I lost my father in late November and have struggled this past month to stay on target.

Yet, the sun definitely shone on EnCircle in 2015. We continued to attract new students and have served 15 students this past year. We had eight students work on our employee team and worked on 6 new websites. I spoke to new organizations on the need for employment resources for adults with autism and the harrowing unemployment rate they face. Urgency was felt, communicated and acted upon. Our financial books stayed in the black with met fundraising goals and funds to pay the bills. Our business supporters helped us throughout the year, and our first EpicEnCircle Video Game tournament was a huge success. Collaborations with other agencies occurred; we had 32 volunteers encircle us with help. Efficient board members remained and worked hard.

And, still, there exists numerous other “blessings” “bonanzas” which I could list, but I will end with the throughout-year consistent sight of our students and teachers working together in a learning community that spelled H O P E for an independent future.  So many skills were learned! So many laughs were shared! So much to celebrate!

As a leader, or simply an individual wanting improvement, it helps to reflect on what went well. It helps to not get stuck on what didn’t go as desired. It helps to learn, let go, and embrace all the excellent momentum that propels one forward into the next year, keeping the individuals of the mission close to heart. It also helps to watch leadership talks and connect to others who are also interested in improvement too. In particular, I am thankful to be part of a 2016 nonprofit leader’s executive roundtable series with ten other local leaders led by Carolyn Sullivan of New Chapter Coaching in Columbia, MO.

I wish the best for all of you in 2016. Thank you for supporting our mission in spirit, hopes, and financial support.

Blessings to you and your organizations and families,

Teri Walden, December 29, 2015

P.S. Check out our excellent class line up for 2016 here!

P.S.S. If you would like to support us financially, you may donate here at our secure site. Thank you!

 

 

 

Many voices of thanks

Our semester has been full. Every single day except for Friday, students have been learning in the classroom. Right now, I hear Peter, our teacher/project manager, talk to a student about a web design project. I remember when I first started EnCircle, most techie talk was unfamiliar. Now, however, my level has gone up to where I can converse fairly comfortably — surprising and wonderful! I am empowered and somewhat capable.

I think our students feel more and more capable now too. I hear about their budding websites or a programming project for class. One student did very well in her Excel test, another student put together a cool video project for a gaming community in town. As I write, students strive to get their college credit in a tech area. Soon, they will be like many college students, fretting over finals.

The semester has been full of good people visiting our classroom, having coffee, advising, supporting us. We had companies step up and help with sponsorships of our video game tournament: Yash Technologies, Columbia College, Easter Seals Midwest, Commerce Bank, Veterans United Tech Division, TekSystems being some of our bigger donors.

I am so thankful for them. Do they know how much their money is needed to continue our program? Can they imagine the faces of the parents and young adults who visit for enrollment and find such a cool place to grow and learn? I see the faces and the hopes. I see the growth in the classroom. I’m telling you — ceilings are being lifted.

Of course, we’ve had other individuals and companies also help — the Columbia Performing Dance Center, Carfax, G3CFO, Hawthorn Bank, Van Matre, Harrison, Hollis, Taylor, and Elliott, P.C., the Llorens family, Imhoff Foundation, US Bank, Boone County Bank, Human Resources Association — CoMo chapter, Connor Hall, Missouri United Methodist Church, grandmothers, a Pampered Chef hostess, other autism parents, friends, and an aunt.

They understand that employment matters:  helping someone with autism become trained for employment helps beat the odds of 75% not being employed.

I’m thankful for the people within our organization who work — we are lifting together, moving forward. Peter, our teacher and project manager, is patient and capable: the perfect person to have in our endeavor. Our board president, Brian Lloyd, is amazing in his commitment and capabilities; his role as a father with a son at EnCircle gives him loving insight. Monett Lite, our board treasurer, has also given much to her role with countless hours to set up a respectable accounting system. Finally, Collin, Julie, Lexi, Natalie, David, LeaAnn, Tom, and Guy are all pulling together on the board for our students’ good, as well as Mike and Brenda who helped us at the beginning.  I am thankful.

Our Mizzou service-learning students — David, Josh, and Jeni– this semester have also been extremely helpful. And, the rest of our current teaching staff, Joe Chee and Roy Thorsby, are dedicated to the best for our students. And, past teachers like Lindsay McGuire, Bob Martin, Denise Tate-Kuhler, Joshua Holland, Cheryl Untershutz, Renee Carter, Brenda Quinlan, Tara Shade, Scott Claybrook, Ellis Benus have poured their talents and skills into our students — thank you!

We’ve also loved every client who came to us for a website (here on our portfolio). We want to thank more next year and those who give referrals.

The students themselves make me very proud. I feel as if I am incredibly lucky to be able to spend almost every day with them. They are funny, interesting, and good people. I hope that the world sees them as individuals, worthy of getting to be known (and employed). They also help me know what video games an older female — nonviolent, gets-motion-sickness — should play. We help each other out.

I am not the only one expressing thanks. I present a list of grateful individuals who are glad that EnCircle exists. It exists because of heart, time, and money participation, because of understanding that resources are desperately needed for exceptional individuals.   Thank you all!  Teri Walden, Executive Director, Co-Founder

~~ Why I’m Grateful for EnCircle

It has taught me a lot. If it weren’t here, I’d probably be playing more video games. It has given me job skills in HTML/CSS, Visual Basic, and WordPress — and also a roommate. Nate Weimer, student.

The experience that it has given me. I’ve made a lot of new friends. I’ve learned a lot of good communication skills and how to reach out to the community to help EnCircle. And, it’s fun!  Jeni Slade, MU Service Learning student, Marketing major,  Fall 2015

Encircle is such a wonderful organization that works so hard to give these adults the training and guidance needed to lead productive and satisfying lives by providing them with engaging, real-life work opportunities.  I am thankful to have been a part of training these amazing students and I will never forget the satisfaction I received from seeing them attain new skills. Denise Tate-Kuhler, former teacher.

One of the highlights of my summer was the opportunity I had to teach a short class on animation to three wonderful students at EnCircle. These students were engaged, creative, enthusiastic and open to trying to new things. As a teacher, I couldn’t have asked for better students. I enjoyed the experience so much that if, given the opportunity to do so, I’d teach another class on a volunteer basis. That’s how awesome the young people being served through EnCircle are. And, that’s a testament to the quality programming they are receiving as students at EnCircle. Because they are encouraged to explore new ideas, technologies and techniques, these students are equipped with the skills and tools necessary to face the future with confidence and competence! Such a pleasure and privilege to know each and every individual affiliated with this amazing organization!   Cheryl Unterschutz, M.Ed.

I am grateful for EnCircle Technologies because it is providing a safe and fun place for my son to gain employable skills and confidence that he can make it on his own.  He has grown both physically and emotionally in the last 18 months at EnCircle and he is showing his potential! -Brian Lloyd, Father of son with Autism

I am thankful for the classes so I can learn HTML/CSS and video editing and WordPress. Thankful for the opportunity to increase my knowledge. I am thankful for Peter who is patient with me.  Cody, student

I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this worthy endeavor! David Clithero, Board Member

I’m grateful for Encircle giving me the opportunity to teach not just any subject, but something I’m passionate about.  Encircle as a company has opened my eyes on the need for education in the autism spectrum.  It’s a message worth spreading and has made me a better person.  Joe Chee, video editing & production teacher, tech support

I am grateful for all the new things I am learning.  I am grateful for the interesting people on the board that I would not have met if I were not on it. Julie Donnelly, board member.

I am grateful that EnCircle pushes its students to find independence and meaning in their lives.  I am grateful that my work at EnCircle pushes me to find meaning in my own life. I am grateful to be a part of something bigger than myself, that provides a positive impact on the Mid-Missouri community. I am excited about the opportunities for individual freedom that EnCircle presents its students.  I am excited about the emotional intelligence they will acquire as they enter this new stage in adulthood. I am grateful for Teri and Peter and for the vision that they work for day-in and day-out. Josh Habermehl, MU Service-Learning Student, senior finance major

I am thankful the next generation is figuring out the nuances of the programming jobs I love. I am thankful that the team at EnCircle is working out how to share advanced topics with my kid, or someone who may as well be my kid. I am thankful for the chance to pitch in so that maybe the next guy can fight to get ahead instead of fighting as hard as I did to get started. Fauna Hubble, Tech Professional Mentor

I am thankful for the opportunity to help create pathways to help hidden talent in our community find their groove. I am grateful to be part of a movement grounded in empathy, operating entrepreneurially, and empowering people every day. I am thankful to be part of an event that let’s me play Smash Brothers all day to help fundraise to train adults on the spectrum in serious programming skills.  Collin Bunch, Board Member

I am happy for a cool place to learn technology. I like the small class sizes. I want to become a web developer.  Student.

Without EnCircle, there would not be a place for my son to learn. I am so thankful. Lisa Imhoff, parent.

 

 

 

 

 

White socks on a classroom chair, etc.

I believe in the power of painting a picture with words. But, darn it, Facebook has been an easy route toward descriptive writing oblivion. For example, this morning, our student Ian showcased his sorta white socks propped up on a classroom chair. He was plugged into the virtual object-oriented programming class piped in from Moberly. He said I could post a picture even with his hair whirl sticking up on the top of his head. No words necessary.

We have many memorable scenes in our classroom that go without description.

My fave of the month was when Scott Christianson and Andrew Clayton came to do volunteer agile project management training to our group of seven students.

I had to stand back and soak it all in. Every second students were defying the “autism characteristics” found in textbooks like: difficulty working in groups, difficulty with communication, prefers being alone, behavioral issues, lack of joint attention. I guess sometimes those researchers just don’t look in the right places.

agileproject

The right places, however, need to be created. After reading about a national study which showed the dearth of educational services for adults with autism, I got it. A place for students to relax, learn, be focused on higher-skilled work is extremely rare. And without education, lower paid and part-time jobs are the norm.

Another sight here at EnCircle is the new student interview. Often, you can see it in their faces — that struggle and separation; that lack of finding a fitting place. Typically, the mother attends too, and you can see the up-and-down years of advocacy on her shoulders. You can see a special pride, though, that she carries for her son/daughter who has fought through until now. There’s a visible fear about the future . . .  with a hope lingering about EnCircle. It feels incredibly good to be able to offer a space and place.

This summer, we had two high school students attend our classes. I can still see their smiles; they both liked to laugh and be funny.

As far as the technology learning this week, I saw Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, teachers and students leaning in, a video camera demonstrated, an e-mail written to the Roots and Blues organizers to do a shoot; websites on monitors; code lit up on a projector. We had a visit from an insightful and successful tech entrepreneur who saw our morning routine and met our students; he also brought gifts!

When I visualize a conducive learning environment with a solid curriculum, I see it. When I see the best students, they’re here! Right here and even now. Proud of them.

Thanks for looking in and staying for awhile! And, thanks for your support which we always appreciate and use wisely for the good of our students. And come by for coffee sometime and meet me and some of our students. Would love to chat and share!
Teri Walden

Executive Director

September 1st, 2015

An individualized, vocational tuning

David Harvey tests newly constructed mandolins at the Gibson factory in Nashville.  He receives them in their baby-glory, capped with shiny, taunt strings. They are perfect without any dings or scratches which they will acquire later in life. David’s job is to carefully swaddle them and put his trained ear toward the first mandolin’s cry: plink, chop, ring. He plucks down the double strings GDAE, listening for correct pitch, hearing unique tone, sensing an instrument’s unsung potential.

During a recent lesson, he told his students at an acoustic music camp that a mandolin and our own musical potential are not just creations. They are a process on a mutual journey toward mastery. However, enjoyment is more important than the mastery itself. Ridding oneself of negative critiques, allowing oneself to be comfortable and fearless, going where one can merrily traverse => all of these should preclude, and then accompany, any kind of mastery which necessarily entails discipline and practice.

It made me think more and more about our students at EnCircle. Do they experience enjoyment en route to their technical mastery? Because one characteristic of autism includes limited areas of interest, isn’t it important to continue to focus on teaching skills they love to learn within an interest area? And, what about bringing this up to even a higher level in our curriculum?

One of our students says she loves Excel. Another student loves video editing. One more loves HTML/CSS.  Many love gaming.

This fall, in addition to our college and software supported classes, we’re going to roll out a development lab, centered around the individual tech interests of our students.

For our student who loves electronics and robotics, we’ll find a compatible learning opportunity outside of the classroom to tie into his programming skills.

One student wants to build a website connected to his interest in creating music. Another will be working with data sets. Another with video production and editing work. Another with creating her own website development business. These are some of the loved areas of interest which will have a fine-tuning life at EnCircle.

Like the mandolin, we can all use the inward assessment of the master tuner. What notes and tone comprise who we are? Are we in tune with our own enjoyment in order to find our true vocational calling? I realize that this analogy can be seen as idealistic, but it can make practical sense.

We can ask, “What in our job now do we love to do?” We can build more of our skills and reputation around it. We can ask, “What do we love to do outside our job?” Can an aspect of this be tied to our work? Can a job be developed with this interest in mind?

In working with individuals on the autism spectrum, I think many of them have it right: fixate on what gives comfort and enjoyment.  Use resources to help build a strong interest into a career.  Be fearless, forget the critics, merrily traverse into a work song that matters to you.

Thanks for leaning in and listening! Off we traverse!

 

Teri Walden, July 2015

Executive Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first semester teaching @ Encircle Technologies

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Real life + in person!

I typically teach online during 1:1 video calls, through video on my blog and through my online training course. This was the first time I had ever had to put on pants that weren’t pj bottoms or yoga pants, leave my house, drive and stand in front of a classroom and teach.

The honest + instant feedback was so valuable.

I walked in with a clear picture of what was going to happen and it was quickly derailed when I realized the things I thought would take a while to teach were picked up in an instant, and the things I thought would take less time we had to work on a bit longer. I also realized that each student knew far more than they give themselves credit for and I tried my best to show them just how awesome and smart they are. A little bit of confidence can go a long way.

That goes for me, too. At the beginning of the semester I was nervous, super nervous. By the end I felt like I belonged. As I gave one of my students a ride home the last day of class she said to me, “To be honest I didn’t know what to think of you at first.” Then she told me she really liked me and enjoyed my class. How awesome is that!?

Why programs like Encircle are so important

By any standard, autism is growing  — some studies say as many as 3 percent of our children may fall on the autism spectrum scale — and vocational options are few and far between after high school.

For every success story like Exceptional Minds Studio, Los Angeles, where young adults on the autism spectrum work on end titles, post-production visual effects and rotoscoping for such films as Lawless and Dawn of the Planet of the Apesthere are dozens, perhaps hundreds of young adults unemployed and barely subsisting on Social Security or woefully underemployed.

Having a young son with autism I think a lot about his current schooling as a pre-schooler. I know how much time and effort his teachers put into his success during the school year. I get nervous just thinking about him going into Kindergarten when he will be in the normal classroom with all the other kids. Even then his support team will make sure that he gets what he needs to be successful. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your son or daughter graduate from high school and not have the right option available to them. My hope is that Encircle will continue to grow and by the time my son graduates he will have the option of taking classes there.

Some of the students take classes there + at the university. You can also earn college credits for a couple of their classes. Pretty awesome!

What we learned

(quick note: I learned more than they did, I’m sure of it)

  • They learned how to work with clients + the basics of project management.
  • They learned how to use new themes and build their very own WordPress site from start to finish.
  • We also talked about email marketing systems and best practices.
  • I was open and honest with them when it came to conversations around being a freelancer, making money and business strategies.
  • I learned new ways to teach the same idea (not everyone learns the same).
  • I learned that the little details that can sometime go assumed are actually really important pieces of the picture and should not go overlooked.

Classes this summer

I am happy to announce that I will be teaching again over the summer. I have met a few of the students that will be in my class and may have a couple of them return to continue their WordPress education. Classes start next week!

Lindsay McGuire, WordPress Developer & Entrepreneur

June 2015

http://lindsaymcguire.com/first-semester-teaching-encircle-technologies/